Q&A: Sterling K. Brown Drinks to New Challenges

After diving into deep drama on This Is Us, Sterling K. Brown takes on a lighter role: A Prada-wearing prosperity pastor accused of sexual impropriety

Sterling K. Brown is always up for a challenge. Today, he’s trying to drink half his body weight in ounces of water.

“I have to pee all the time,” he says, laughing. In his new film, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul., L.A.-based Brown has taken on the challenge of comic leading man. It’s a departure from the serious roles for which he’s most known: his breakthrough, Emmy-winning turn as prosecutor Christopher Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson, and his award-winning journey as the tightly wound Randall Pearson on This Is Us.

In Honk, a nuanced satire from 31-year-old twins Adamma and Adanne Ebo, Brown plays Lee-Curtis Childs, an over-the-top, Prada-wearing prosperity pastor. When his Atlanta megachurch is shuttered after a sex scandal, Childs and his wife (played by Regina Hall with hilarious restraint) mount the biggest comeback commodified religion has ever seen, including allowing a film crew to record their every desperate move.

LAMag: How different is Childs from the pastors you grew up with in St. Louis’s Black churches?

Brown: Lee-Curtis is a heightened version of any pastor that I went to church with. But then sometimes he’s pretty congruous with things I’m accustomed to—especially growing up watching prosperity preachers and the sort of equation of blessings with financial gains. 

What are words you’d use to describe him?

True believer. He’s a vessel for the Holy Spirit. Full of himself. Terrified because those things define him, and when they’re taken away, he is without definition.

You have two little boys, 11 and 7. What aspects of the church are important to you and your wife in terms of wanting that to be part of your kids’ experience?

We both grew up in the Black church. So much of Black culture has been funneled through the church, whether it’s music, the pageantry of the wardrobe, or the Word itself. It is so much a part of Black folks’ journey in this country. But I think the things that we can do without are judgment, homophobia, the idea that any religion has a monopoly on salvation. So for us and our children, we want them to have faith in a higher power, but we also want them to love without limits and never give up critical thought.

Your character in This is Us, Randall Pearson, has a problem with perfectionism. Do you suffer from the same affliction?

Going to a high-performing place like Stanford University, you want to stand out, and you can have this idea that being perfect is something that’s actually attainable—until you reach a place where it becomes debilitating.

You tackled a lot of mental health issues on This Is Us. Did you feel a responsibility to get a certain message out to the Black community?

I think for communities of color, we have been taught that life is hard, suck it up. As Black folks, you got to work twice as hard to get just as far. At a certain point, it’s like, “Jesus, does everybody have to carry this shit around?” So I hope that in watching Randall getting treatment, there is a recognition that there is a better way to navigate this. 

What’s the mission of your production company?

I really want to be one of those people that makes opportunities possible for [Black] and other people, to where things don’t seem so exceptional for us to be involved from a creative standpoint. You have to have a multitude of perspectives in order to tell a multitude of stories. There’s a sort of moniker that I have: to entertain, to educate, to edify, to hopefully make people laugh, to make people think, and then to encourage people to make the world a better place. I think that’s my overall mission in life.

That’s a pretty big mission.

Thank you. Drink your water!

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